Britain leaves its Eritrean community at the mercy of government extortion

The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain.

The British government is ignoring the threats and demands being made by the Eritean government on its countrymen and women living in Britain. The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain. The money raised it used, in part, to fund the activities of the Eritrean government in undermining other government in the Horn of Africa. According to the 2011 census, there are 17,300 Eritreans living in England and Wales.

A United Nations report plus documents from the Eritrean community in Britain provides evidence of the activities undertaken by agents of the state, many of them operating from the Eritrean embassy in London. This, despite British nominal support for action to end this extortion, and assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end the practice.

The UN report by a team of expert – led by the Canadian Africa expert Matt Bryden – laid out in chilling detail the range of methods being used by the Eritrean authorities to extract funds from the diaspora.

Without proof that a two per cent tax on all income has been paid, Eritrean passports are not renewed, visas are not issues, businesses not permitted and money cannot be transferred to relatives.

This is a case from the UK, cited by the UN Monitors.

Mr. “K” left Eritrea in 2000 and established himself in the UK. In 2007, the business licence of his parents’ import-export company in Asmara expired. When the family applied to renew their business licence, the authorities in (the Eritrean capital) Asmara stipulated that in order to obtain approval, their son needed to acquit himself of the 2 per cent diaspora tax payment. When his family contacted Mr. K. he replied that he did not want to pay and his parents renounced him as a member of his family in order to obtain the license, creating a longstanding rift in the family.

The UN Security Council condemned these practices three years ago. Britain voted in favour of resolution 2023 of 2011, which “condemned the diaspora tax”, “demanded” that Eritrea ended it and called on all states to ensure that it ceased.

The UN report says it has received assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end these practices.

On 20 May 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom notified the Eritrean authorities that, since aspects of the collection of the two per cent tax may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, until it was demonstrated otherwise, the Eritrean embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.

Yet there is evidence that the practice continues to this day. Members of the Eritrean diaspora living in Britain have told the New Statesman that the taxes continue to be demanded from them. Although they are concerned to remain anonymous, the New Statesman has a document showing the payment of the tax dated October 2012, more than a year after the Foreign Office issued its warning to the Eritrean ambassador.

 

 

The translation of the receipt reads:

Per the information we received from you, we confirm that the above sum has been credited into our account and we are enclosing the credit advice. Please complete the transaction in accordance with the procedures, entering it into the database and also the government account system.

Victory to the Masses!

Berhane Yemane

Head of Mission Accounts

Elsa Chyrum, an Eritrean human rights activist, says the Eritrean Government and party agents have since resumed tax collection across the United Kingdom.

Selam Kidane, an Eritrean working with the diaspora agrees. She says the authorities have just altered their strategy: “Following pressure from the British government the Embassy simply changed their collection method. Now most of the collection is done in Asmara, but the amount required is still the same.” “This puts a lot of pressure on families with limited means,” she says.

While the British government fails to halt this abuse, others have acted. In May the Canadian government expelled the Eritrean envoy.

"Canada has taken steps to declare persona non grata Mr Semere Ghebremariam O Micael, consul and head of the Eritrean Consulate General in Toronto, effective immediately," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.

But in London the Eritrean embassy continues to operate, unaffected by UN sanctions, or the ineffectual threats from the Foreign Office.

An Eritrean demonstrator waves his national flag during a demonstration on Whitehall in 2012. The protesters were demanding that Britain stops selling arms to Ethiopia. Photo: Getty

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution